Trying to Make Sense of Eagles' Cornerback Free-for-all

It's impossible to look at all the Eagles' young cornerbacks without playing that chess game: Who starts inside, who starts outside, who are the backups, who gets cut?

Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills started for a Super Bowl champion before getting hurt last year. Rasul Douglas keeps improving by leaps and bounds. Sidney Jones was a second-round pick who's finally healthy. Avonte Maddox showed tremendous production at several positions as a rookie. Cre'Von LeBlanc came out of nowhere to lock down the slot.

They're all young, they're all athletic, they're all versatile.

 And with opening day three months away, not one of them has a starting spot locked up.

We're all fighting and we'll see how it goes down," Eagles defensive backs coach Cory Undlin said Monday. "I wouldn't make any statement on who's going to be starting until we're in training camp and we know who's going to be out there. I'm not going to forecast that. I have no idea.

You can even throw Josh Hawkins and Jeremiah McKinnon into the mix because both have gotten reps this summer.

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Do Mills and Darby get their starting spots back when they're healthy? Can Douglas and Jones displace them if they continue trending upward? Does Maddox stay in the slot or will Mills or Jones wind up there? 

I would say we'll determine that when we get to the end of training camp and we get ready to play the first game and we'll base it on who's ready and who's healthy and who's out there and go from there," Undlin said. "We'll keep rolling everybody and then when we get to the end we'll put everybody in the best spot where they can help us.

All the corners will get reps in the slot during training camp except probably Douglas and possibly Darby. Maddox can swing to safety and Douglas and Mills can as well.

There are countless ways this whole thing can line up when the Eagles open the regular season on Sept. 8 against the Redskins.

And depending on the opponent and what it's offensive strengths are, the Eagles will have the flexibility to approach each game with different guys in different roles.

Obviously when you have a bunch of guys that we feel good about it gives you more options," Undlin said. "We're going to put everybody in as many different spots as we can. After last season? Hopefully, we're not in that situation again, but you never know. So the more guys go down and the more the guys behind them can play different spots it just gives you different options, so we'll keep letting those guys play different spots and if you get to that situation you don't have to worry about who goes where. It's a nice luxury. … Obviously the more spots you know the more valuable you are for the team. I think it helps all those guys just being more prepared and getting a better feel for the defense and they understand how it works.

Undlin on some of his key guys going into the 2019 season:

Rasul Douglas: "He looks good. Very pleased with the spring so far. I would say I'm probably more impressed this spring with his demeanor and his presence in the meeting room. I'm impressed with both, but he's grown up a lot in the three years he's been here, so I'm very impressed with that."

Sidney Jones: "Obviously, he's been kind of dinged the last two years he's been here, so the fact that he's gotten through the 10 practices and he's still out there -- without saying anything else -- has been the biggest positive. He's grinding, he's working hard, he's got a lot of ball production here in the spring, so he's doing a good job both inside and outside. Impressed with where he is right now as far as maturity."

Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby: "Those two guys are in every single meeting, they haven't missed anything all spring, and I call on them just like they are if they were playing and they've done that and it's been great. Barring the fact that they're not on the grass, they've been outstanding."

Avonte Maddox: "His best spot will be wherever he can help us the most win games. You knew I was going to say that. He's been awesome. Going inside and outside and both on the right and left."

You figure Darby will start once he's healthy. Why else would they bring him back? I personally think Douglas is going to wind up being the best of the entire bunch and needs to start. Jones was a second-round pick and they want him to start. Maddox is such a playmaker. Mills was a Super Bowl starter and is terrific in the red zone. We saw what Le'Blanc can do.

The Eagles have a ton of fast, smart, young, versatile corners. It's going to be fun watching this all sort itself out.

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